Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tagged - Five Influences

Michael Barber has tagged me on five books or scholars that have influenced me the most. I don't usually play these "tag" games, but I'll indulge my good friend Michael and play this one. To begin with, I have to protest, this question is kinda like, "Who are your five favourite relatives?" It's so hard to pick, so I'll go for categories:

1. Ancient Author: My favourite ancient author is a hard one. I love the Epistle of Diognetus whoever its author may be. I'm partial to Irenaeus and Justin Martyr too. But I would have to say that John Chrysostom is my favourite ancient author as I find his homilies theologically captivating and spiritually nourishing.

2. Reformed Author: I really love Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor, but obviously you cannot go past John Calvin as the greatest theologian of the Reformation. His Institutes of the Christian Religion continues to amaze me as to its biblical rigor and theological brilliance. In more recent times, I've also benefitted immensely from his commentaries on Romans, Galatians, and Colossians.

3. Modern Authors: Several modern authors have contributed to my intellectual and theological development and represent role models of evangelical biblical scholarship that I've tried to emulate. They include Scot McKnight, Craig Keener, and Stan Porter and I include them because they write well, they write often, and they actually teach me stuff. I'm also very privileged to say that I consider all three guys to be my friends too. Further mention in despatches for I. Howard Marshall, James Dunn, and Richard Bauckham as top British scholars that I learn much from too! Now as for the authors who have influenced me the most, there are two in particular that I have to mention. At the risk of sounding schizophrenic, I'm gonna say that the two modern authors who have influenced me the most are N.T. Wright and D.A. Carson. Both inspired me, in different ways, to become a New Testament lecturer.

On Wright, I first remember seeing a few references to Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) in the footnotes of journal articles in the late 1990s. I finally saw a copy of JVG in a bookshop in Griffin just outside of Atlanta in December 1999 and I thought it looked pretty cool. I then read it in February of 2000 and was blown away. In the early pages Wright speaks of how for most Christians as long as Jesus had a sinless birth and a sin bearing death, the actual content of his life matters very little. Protestant theology has focused on the work of Christ rather than on the teachings Christ. That comment struck at the very jugular of the way that I read the Gospels, formerly believing that (1) they were just there to introduce Jesus as the glorious subject of Paul's soteriology; and (2) Jesus taught mostly about how to get to heaven and how to be a good Christian. Reading JVG constituted the moment when I swallowed the red pill and left the "matrix" of "hyer-individualized vertical piety" and entered the real world of the New Testament. JVG enabled me to put aside the pious platitudes of the Sunday School Jesus and meet a Jesus who fitted into the first-century context, who shaped his followers to lead the church, and stood as part of the storyline of Israel's Scriptures. Wright's various works on Resurrection, Paul, and Discipleship continued to capture my imagination, even if I have not been convinced by all of his conclusions (e.g. still-in-exile, works of law, justification, etc.). As far as New Testament Theologians go, my belief is that Wright is for evangelicals what Bultmann was for the liberals.

On Carson, his commentary on the Gospel of John (PNTC) is one of the best biblical commentaries I've ever read. Carson elegantly combines exegetical acumen, theological reflection, and pastoral application in the one package. He's also uniquely gifted in the sense of being just as good in person and he is in print. I remember attending his lectures on Justification and the NPP at the Sydney Presbyterian Theological Centre in 2001 which was a good counter-point to my recent readings of Wright. In fact, those lectures innoculated me from ever getting into the NPP in a complete way (though apparently some vociferous critics of mine would disagree on that point!). Carson's devotional work For the Love of God also continues to feed my mind and soul in the mornings when I get to my office and I also really like the songs he's co-written on his two CDs. Carson can be fairly harsh in his criticisms at time, but for the most part I've found him fairly nuanced and irenic. Whereas I've been known to defend N.T. Wright on various points, I like to point out that I also defended Carson's much-criticized conclusion to JVG I in footnote of SROG. Carson remains for me one of the foremost examples of scholarship that is both academic, evangelical, and pastoral.

4. Wild Card Author: If there was one author that I would like to be stranded on a desert island with for a week or so, it would have to be Markus Barth. AI don't know whether I would say that Markus Barth has influenced me that much, but I find him to be such an interesting author. Although he died in 1999, I continue to discover just how much his work was way ahead of its time. By that I mean that Markus Barth was into several things that at the time were considered marginal in scholarship, but now have gained widespread currency. He was into the "faithfulness of Christ" long before Richard Hays revived it. He linked resurrection and justification long before Richard Gaffin (or Michael Bird) ever did. Forget Krister Stendahl as the precursor to the NPP, Markus Barth was highlighting the social dimensions of justification long ago. He wrote an excellent little book on the Lord's Supper which purportedly influenced his Father Karl Barth. And a continental scholar who believes that Paul actually wrote Colossians and Ephesians is about as rare as a reggae band at a Klu Klux Klan convention. Some of his stuff on Jews and Judaism doesn't work for me (since it is too post-holocaust reactive), but I look forward to meeting Markus Barth in the heavenly kingdom and discussing with him the link between justification and glorification with the subject of our study readily before us!

That's my spiel. I now tag Daniel Kirk and Joel Willitts.


Michael Barber said...


Thanks for doing this. I don't like these things either as I explained over at SITR. But I did sort of enjoy doing the post.

I really appreciated your answers. I've got to confess that I've read very little of D. A. Carson outside his commentary. But you've inspired to read more of him.

hrobins said...

Mike, do you have a hard time choosing five favorite relatives because you absolutely adore all of your relatives? If so, you are a lucky man.
ps--did you get my email?


Michael F. Bird said...

On relatives, let's just say that being in Scotland has its advantages! No, I haven't got an email from you!! Try again.

Wayne said...

"On Carson, his commentary on the Gospel of John (PNTC) is one of the best biblical commentaries I've ever read."

Yeah, he's even good in those places where he's not channeling F.F. Bruce. :-)

Tim Marsh said...

That's interesting about Carson's commentary on John. I did not care for it. I felt like his Reformed presuppositions kept him from asking tough questions about John's Gospel and dealing with rigorous exegesis.

It was not my favorite on John.